The Environmental Working Group, well-known for its Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of produce, has released a new Dirty Dozen. This time, EWG is rating the most toxic food additives.
There are over 10,000 additives allowed in our food, and there’s really only loose regulation around what can and can’t be in our food. We’ve talked here before about how ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) maybe aren’t so safe after all. The EWG “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives” highlights the twelve worst offenders.
So, which food additives made the cut? You can check out the list from the EWG or see it out below.
Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives
These are the EWG’s dirty dozen food additives, what they do, and what products they hide in.
1. Nitrates and Nitrites – These additives help preserved meats maintain freshness and color. These chemicals are also linked to cancer. The WHO calls these food additives “probable human carcinogens.”
2. Potassium Bromate – This ingredient helps bread and cracker dough rise. Potassium bromate is linked to cancer, DNA disruption, and this ingredient is banned in the UK and Canada.
3. Propyl Paraben – Parabens aren’t just lurking in your cosmetics. This chemical preservative decreases sperm count and acts as a synthetic estrogen. Look for it in tortillas, muffins, and in food dyes.
4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) – The National Toxicology Program classifies DHA as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The EU also classifies it as an endocrine disruptor. It’s used as a preservative in chips and cured meat. You should also look on the label of any fatty foods, since it’s used as a preservative and flavoring in these processed foods.
5. Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) -Like BHA, BHT is a preservative linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. It’s often used along with BHA, so look for it in the same types of foods.
6. Propyl Gallate – This is another preservative used in meats, especially sausage and lard. There is incomplete data, but this chemical is possibly linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and reproductive issues.
7. Theobromine – Found in bread, cereal and sport drinks, this GRAS ingredient is made by Theocorp Holding Co. It’s usually consumed at amounts much higher than levels Theocorp say are safe. It may also be linked to reproductive and developmental problems, but Theocorp says that those findings aren’t a concern. And if there’s anyone you can trust when it comes to food additives, it’s the company profiting from their production.
8. Natural and Artificial Flavors – Like “fragrance” or “parfum” on beauty labels, “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” can mean almost anything. We have no way of knowing whether they’re safe or not, because companies don’t have to disclose what chemicals are in these flavors. And natural flavors are no safer than artificial. FDA is very lax about what it considers “natural.” BHA can be listed as a “natural flavor,” for example. Look for these ingredients in any packaged food.
9. Artificial Colors – Like natural and artificial flavors, these can be in almost any packaged food. Artificial food coloring are linked to a slew of health concerns from ADD to cancer.
10. Diacetyl – This ingredient gives microwave popcorn its buttery flavor. It also gives “a severe and irreversible respiratory condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, which leads to inflammation and permanent scarring of the airways” to people who work in popcorn plants.
11. Phosphates – These are common in many processed foods, especially leavened breads and processed meats. Phosphates may increase your risk of heart disease and early death, especially if you’re dealing with kidney disease.
12. Aluminum – This appears on labels with names like sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate. Used to stabilize a wide range of processed food, these chemicals stay in your body for a long time after you ingest them.
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